- Soar over the "fairy chimneys" of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon
- Bathe in the mineral waters at Pamukkale and the Roman spa at Hierapolis
- Stroll along Antalya's ancient harbor and tour its historic center
- Visit the colorful seaside village of Kaş and laze on the surrounding beaches
- Discover Istanbul's Byzantine landmarks like the Hippodrome and Hagia Sophia
|Day 1||Arrive in Cappadocia||Uchisar|
|Day 2||Göreme Museum, Valley Hike, & Optional Activities||Uchisar|
|Day 3||Morning Balloon Ride, Visit Kaymakli Underground City||Uchisar|
|Day 4||Cappadocia to Antalya Road Trip||Antalya|
|Day 5||Optional Wreck Diving, Visit Termessos||Antalya|
|Day 6||Road Trip to Kaş, Optional Stops at Chimaera & Myra||Kaş|
|Day 7||Free Day in Kaş, Optional Scuba Diving||Kaş|
|Day 8||Free Day in Kaş, Optional Kayaking||Kaş|
|Day 9||Road Trip to Pamukkale, Optional Stop in Xanthos||Pamukkale|
|Day 10||Tour Pamukkale & Hierapolis, Fly to Istanbul||Istanbul|
|Day 11||Tour Istanbul by Foot & Boat||Istanbul|
|Day 12||Walking Tour of Istanbul's Old City||Istanbul|
|Day 13||Free Day in Istanbul||Istanbul|
|Day 14||Depart Istanbul|
Day 1: Arrive in Cappadocia
Welcome to Turkey, one of the oldest civilizations in the world! There is no shortage of historic ruins here, which run the gamut from ancient Greek to Roman to Christian and Islamic cultures. Then there's all the natural beauty, from the stunning coastline along the Aegean and Mediterranean seas to inland valleys and mountain regions. The trip kicks off with one such highlight: Cappadocia. Located on the arid plains of the Central Anatolia region of Turkey, it's an area known for its towering "fairy chimney" geological formations and lunar-looking valleys.
You'll arrive in the evening at the airport in Kayseri, the main hub for travel to Cappadocia. A personal guide will transfer you by car west to Uçhisar, in Cappadocia. This town is unique in that its highest point is a citadel carved into towering volcanic rock. A popular activity is hiking to the top, where you'll enjoy the best panoramic views of Cappadocia anywhere. After checking in to your hotel and getting settled, you can explore Uçhisar. You might notice that various hotels, restaurants, and other buildings are built as caves into the rock formations dotting the landscapes around town.
Day 2: Göreme Museum, Valley Hike, & Optional Activities
UNESCO-protected Cappadocia is famous for its towering rock formations, nicknamed "fairy chimneys" because of their otherworldly shape. They were formed millions of years ago from volcanic eruptions that left the landscape covered in mounds of thick ash, which solidified and were shaped by wind and erosion over time.
You'll visit the Göreme Open Air Museum in the morning, which showcases the area's history, highlighting the cluster of rock-hewn churches and Byzantine landmarks. Including the ancient art and frescoes left behind by persecuted Christians. As you stroll the site, you'll learn about the techniques the residents used to create these structures and artworks, which also gives Cappadocia's valleys a lunar quality. In the afternoon, you'll embark on a brisk, easy hike to one such locale: Love Valley, or choose an optional, 2-hour horseback ride through another stunning valley.
Day 3: Morning Balloon Ride, Visit Kaymakli Underground City
The most popular activity in Cappadocia is a sunrise balloon ride over the valley. It's a particularly unforgettable experience not just because of the views but also because the plateaus and rocks have a painted quality. They even appear to change color in the shifting light. First thing in the morning, you'll have the option to take one of these balloon tours.
Afterward, you'll return to Uchisar and then head out on another excursion to Kaymakli Underground City. This is one of the underground cities built by the Early Christians to protect themselves from religious persecution. It's comprised of an elaborate maze of nearly 100 tunnels and various caves, and it's one of the widest of the region's underground cities. Four city levels are open to the public, with the fourth level located 65 feet (20 m) underground. After lunch, you'll enjoy panoramic vistas of Cappadocia from Avcilar Valley and Paşabağ Valley (Valley of Monks).
One optional activity is to visit a 13th-century caravanserai (ancient roadside inn), on the historic Silk Road, for a whirling dervish performance. A Sufi mystic created this traditional and profoundly religious ceremony in the 13th century and it spread throughout the Ottoman Empire. It's a form of meditation designed to lead to enlightenment and closeness with God through dance and music. The dancers wear flowing white robes and spin in rhythmic patterns accompanied by musicians, creating a stillness of mind for the performers and the audience.
Day 4: Cappadocia to Antalya Road Trip
In the morning, you'll head out with your driver on a full-day road trip, leaving the arid plateaus of Central Anatolia as you head southwest to the resort city of Antalya. This is the gateway to the Mediterranean and Turkey's stunning Turquoise Coast, famous for its golden beaches, coastal mountains, pine-fringed bays, and azure waters. Antalya is one of the country's premier holiday destinations and the very definition of a historic Mediterranean port, complete with a yacht-filled old harbor, stunning Roman ruins, and Ottoman-era houses.
En route, you'll stop at Sultanhani, a town known for its 13th-century caravanserai before continuing to Konya. This historic city is a famous pilgrimage destination for Sufis. It's home to the tomb of the Celaleddin Rumi, known as Mevlana, an important mystic and founder of the Mevlevi order. You'll visit the Mevlana Museum, which includes a 13th-century mausoleum housing Rumi's sarcophagus. Other exhibits here include a collection of artifacts belonging to the Mevlevi Order (books, carpets, and artworks). Near the museum is the Mevlana Cultural Center, which stages whirling dervish ceremonies.
Following lunch, you'll head south to the Aspendos Theater. Built in the 2nd century, Aspendos is the most well-preserved Roman amphitheater in Turkey and is still in use today. You'll get to stroll around some 7,000 seats on tour. Then hit the road for the last leg of the trip, arriving in the evening at your hotel in Old Town, Antalya's historic center. Once the capital of the ancient region of Pamphylia, this city is now a modern coastal paradise. Besides its stunning Mediterranean beaches, Antalya is known for its nearby waterfalls and Byzantine hilltop castles.
Day 5: Optional Wreck Diving, Visit Termessos
After breakfast, you can choose to head out and do some wreck diving right in Antalya's old harbor. Strap on your scuba gear and swim out to the St Didier wreckage, a French ship downed by British airplanes during World War II. Today it sits 111 feet (34 m) underwater, not far from the harbor.
In the afternoon, you'll head 10 miles (17 km) north of Antalya to the ancient city of Termessos. Built at an altitude of 3,280 feet (1,000 m) in the Taurus Mountains, Termessos is one of Turkey's most well-preserved Pisidian (ancient Asia Minor) cities. Its position on a natural platform on Mt Solymos means certain buildings, like its ancient theater, offer incredible views of the surrounding mountains. The known history of Termessos dates to the 4th century BCE, and it's famous for being one of the few cities that Alexander the Great couldn't conquer in Asia Minor.
After Termessos, you'll return to Old Town and pick up your rental car in preparation for the next day's coastal road trip. In the evening, treat yourself to a nice dinner at one of the many fine restaurants overlooking the old harbor.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: Road Trip to Kaş, Optional Stops at Chimaera & Myra
You'll hit the road this morning in your rental car for the 124-mile (200-km) drive southwest from Antalya to Kaş. It's a beautiful coastal drive full of incredible seascapes that, besides lovely beaches, will take you alongside forests and around mountains. The trip will take around 3-3.5 hours if you choose to drive straight through. However, you can break up the drive with optional stops, like must-visit Mount Chimaera. Known in Turkish as yanartaş (burning rock) for its flaming gas vents that have been burning for millennia and were once used as a navigational reference for ships at sea.
Another optional stop is Myra, Located 1.5 km north of the town of Demre. This archeological site was once one of the most important cities in the Lycian Union. The site is known for its ancient amphitheater and rock tombs with intricate carvings dating to around the 4th century BCE. Upon arrival in the coastal town of Kaş, you'll check into your hotel and will have the remainder of the evening free.
Day 7: Free Day in Kaş, Optional Scuba Diving
After your long drive yesterday, you may like to spend today relaxing in the charming coastal town of Kaş. Take a stroll around Old Town or laze on one of the nearby beaches. The most famous option is Kaputaş Beach, hugged by cliffs and is known for the turquoise waters lapping at its golden sands. You can also visit Kaş's main square, which overlooks the harbor, to enjoy an ice cream.
If you feel active, head out on an optional, 3-4-hour scuba diving excursion. Many dive sites near the Kaş harbor offer everything from wreck diving to cave diving. There's good visibility in the clear waters. The marine life you'll likely see includes turtles, rays, eels, trumpet fish, sea horses, and (if you're lucky) dolphins. Later in the afternoon, you may want to head over to Old Town for sundown. Or walk a few minutes west of the main square and take a seat in the upper levels of the 1st-century amphitheater. It offers the best sunset views in town.
Day 8: Free Day in Kaş, Optional Kayaking
Spend another day browsing the shops in Old Town Kaş, whiling away the hours at a café on the main square, or hitting the beach. One other optional activity is a kayak excursion to nearby Kekova Island. The waters in this protected area are calm, making for a relaxing ride. There are also several sights worth exploring, such as the underwater ruins of Dolchiste, an ancient Lycian settlement that sunk by an earthquake in the 2nd century.
You can also paddle to the seaside village of Simena, which dates to the 4th century BCE and is the only Mediterranean town in Turkey that is inaccessible by road. The trip there is incredible, as you'll pass romantic coves and cliffside rock tombs. Just off the pier in this small fisherman's village is a submerged sarcophagus, and the shore is lined with charming restaurants and Turkish tavernas.
Day 9: Road Trip to Pamukkale, Optional Stop in Xanthos
After breakfast, enjoy one last swim in Kaş. Then it's time to get back in your rental car and continue the road trip north toward Pamukkale. This town in southwestern Turkey is known for what might be the most stunning natural wonder in the entire country: its collection of terraced thermal springs.
The total distance is 126 miles (300 km) and takes around 4 hours to arrive. Optionally, you can stop off at the ancient city of Xanthos, founded in the 8th century BCE. This incredible archeological site was once the capital of ancient Lycia, the most prominent of the Iron Age cultures in the Anatolia region of Turkey. It covers 310 acres, and landmarks include an acropolis, agora, various temples, and a citadel. A major highlight is the funerary art on display in its pillar tombs, rock-cut tombs, and sarcophagi.
When you arrive in Pamukkale, it will likely be too late for a day trip to the terraced thermal pools cascading over travertine cliffs. Rest assured, however, you can enjoy the spa facilities in your hotel.
Day 10: Day Trip to Pamukkale & Hierapolis, Fly to Istanbul
Your guide will meet you at the hotel at 9 am for your day trip to Pamukkale's thermal pools. The name suitably translates to "cotton castle." The landscape comprises mineral forests, petrified waterfalls, and terraced basins formed by calcium waters that cascade down from a 656-foot (200-m) cliff overlooking the plain. Some of these terraced pools are even open for swimming.
You'll also want to visit Hierapolis, an ancient spa city built in the 2nd century BCE where you can take a dip in the Antique Pool, a thermal bath full of submerged marble columns from the nearby Temple of Apollo. In the afternoon, you'll leave Pamukkale and head to the airport outside the city of Denizli. Here you'll drop off your rental car and catch an evening flight to Istanbul. A new guide and driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel upon arrival.
Day 11: Tour Istanbul by Foot & Boat
Wake up and enjoy a classic Turkish breakfast of olives, tomatoes, eggs, cheese, fresh bread, and other goodies. Then head out for a day exploring Istanbul. The city lies on the Bosphorus Strait, which divides it into European and Asian halves, thus bridging the two continents. Istanbul is a melting pot of cultures—a hallmark ever since it was the terminus on the old Silk Road. It's also known for great food and incredible architecture spanning the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
First up on your guided walking tour is the Spice Bazaar, the most fragrant and colorful market in the city. This is where people stock up on common Turkish spices like sumac, saffron, black cumin, and pul biber (also known as Aleppo pepper). It's also a great place to shop for gifts and local treats such as Turkish coffees, teas, dried fruits, nuts, and Turkish delight. Later, you'll enjoy a boat excursion along the Bosphorus. From the deck, you can admire the shores of both the European and Asian sides of the city, which allows you to see it from a whole new perspective.
Later, your walking tour will take you into the city's center, around the lively Karaköy and Galata districts. Important landmarks include St. Antoine's Church (the largest Catholic Church in Istanbul), the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall, the 19th-century Tünel (the oldest underground train in Europe), and Neve Shalom Synagogue. You can also head up Galata Tower. This 14th-century watchtower was built by the Genovese and offers stunning views of the European side of Istanbul, the Golden Horn waterway, the Bosphorus, and south to the Historical Peninsula (Old City).
After a long day of sightseeing, head back to your hotel for some relaxation. In the evening, venture out again for dinner at one of Istanbul's many kebapçıs (kebab restaurants), or try other staples like fresh fish and mezes (a platter of small plates and finger foods designed to be shared).
Day 12: Walking Tour of Istanbul's Old City
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, then meet your guide for another adventurous day exploring Istanbul. Today's focus will be the Old City, located on a peninsula that juts eastward into the Bosphorus. Because this landmass sits at the southernmost entrance to the strait, it was of great strategic importance to anyone who controlled the city. The Roman emperor Constantine, for example, built the Walls of Constantinople here in the 1st century CE. These stone fortifications ran around the peninsula's spine and survived even through the Ottoman Empire. Many are still intact today.
You'll visit significant landmarks in the Old City, some of which are centered around the Byzantine-era Hippodrome. Today it's famous as the location of Hagia Sophia, which was built in 537 CE and was the largest building in the world at the time. In 1934 it was declared a museum, and its four sleek minarets and elegant dome (with gold mosaic interior) remain an iconic part of Istanbul's skyline. Across the Hippodrome sits the Blue Mosque, another of Istanbul's architectural marvels.
In the afternoon, your guide will take you to the Grand Bazaar. Sprawling more than 333,000 sq feet (30,700 sq m), it's one of the largest covered markets in the world. And because it was built in 1455, it is also one of the oldest. More than 4,000 shops and stalls across 61 covered streets sell everything from hand-woven Turkish rugs to knockoff designer clothing. To see all of it would take a few hours, so stop every so often for a break at one of the bazaar's many cafés. Afterward, head back to your hotel and relax before heading out to dinner at one of the restaurants around Taksim Square, Galata, or trendy Karaköy.
Day 13: Free Day in Istanbul
Today you'll have free to explore Istanbul on your own. For serious relaxation, visit a hammam (Turkish bath) to experience a cultural tradition that will leave you refreshed. If you don't want to handle the scrubbing yourself, you can delegate the responsibility to a professional masseuse. Note that most hammams have separate facilities for men and women.
If you're in town on a Wednesday, you can head into the Old City to browse Çarşamba, the largest street market in the city. Once a week, the streets around the Faith Mosque are closed, canopies pop up, and thousands of produce stalls appear. Come here for fresh vegetables, olives, cheeses, spices, kitchen utensils, clothing, shoes, and more. Know that this is one of the most conservative areas of the city, so dress appropriately. If you don't happen to be here on a Wednesday, you can always shop at one of the many fresh produce markets in Kadıköy, on Istanbul's Asian shore.
Day 14: Depart Istanbul
Sadly, it's time to say goodbye to fascinating Istanbul. After enjoying one last delicious Turkish breakfast, a personal driver will transfer you to the airport for your flight home. See you soon!
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